Minnesota kids are too fat to fight.

That's the message from a group of retired generals who say the state's kids are too fat, eat too poorly and don't get enough exercise to qualify to join the military.

As part of a nationwide effort, generals recommend more physical education classes and better meals in schools and more walking and biking trails in the state's communities to get kids in fighting trim.

The report, released Thursday, doesn't pull any punches, even in the title: "Too Fat, Frail, and Out-of-Breath to Fight."

Among its findings: 69 percent of Minnesota's young adults cannot serve in the military; one in 10 in the state suffer from asthma, disqualifying them from service; in an average week, 40 percent of Minnesota ninth-graders receive no physical education and less than a quarter of Minnesota high school students get the recommended hour of physical activity during their day.

"Long-term military readiness is at risk unless a large-scale change in physical activity and nutrition takes place in America," the report warns.

Even as the U.S. draws down its military forces after more than a decade of escalation for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the armed forces continue to need a prepared fighting force, the generals said.

"Regardless of the number, whoever serves is going to have to be fit enough to be able to conduct the missions," said retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Tim Kennedy.

Guard and reserve units also will be required to remain ready for domestic missions such as flooding and other natural disasters, said retired U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Jerald Engelman.

"It is very important for the citizen soldier to be kept physically fit," he said.

They were joined by retired Air Force Brig. Gens. Harry Sieben and Dennis Schulstad.

The report was released nationally by Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of more than 500 retired generals, admirals and other senior enlisted military leaders.

It does note that many Minnesota schools and communities already are trying to make improvements in the lifestyles of students and young adults.

Within the past decade, a program called Safe Routes to School has helped 180 schools increase the number of children commuting to and from school by improving sidewalks, bicycle paths, intersections, and traffic signals.

In addition, school lunches have been targeted for improvement. As a result of updated standards for school meals that went into effect in 2012, 94 percent of schools in Minnesota are now serving meals that have more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, the report said.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434